Gender roles in SFF romance hybrids

Right now, there are a couple of interesting discussions about gender roles in hybrid forms between the speculative fiction genres and the romance genre, that is urban fantasy, paranormal romance, futuristic romance, SF romances, etc…

attackfish has a great Bittercon* post wondering why paranormal romance is far more likely to feature a supernatural hero and normal human heroine than the other way around.

There actually are quite a few books where both hero and heroine are supernatural, but this constellation is far more common in urban fantasy than in pure paranormal romance. Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series and Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series are two paranormal romance examples where both hero and heroine are usually supernatural beings. But even if both characters are supernatural, the hero is usually already aware and in control of his abilities, while the heroine is only just discovering hers.

Meanwhile, novels featuring a supernatural heroine and normal human hero are indeed very rare. The only examples I can think of offhand are Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater, The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair (sort of, the hero is a police officer from Earth, the heroine a military commander from outer space hunting down biomechanically created zombies) and Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series which usually features vampire heroines paired with human heroes. And in Rob Thurman’s wonderful Leandros Brothers series, Niko Leandros (fully human albeit a martial arts master) has a vampire lover, while his half-human brother Cal has an ongoing affair with a female werewolf.

Sherwood Smith offers a Bittercon post of her own in response to attackfish’s and wonders whether the supernatural hero/human heroine pattern is not due to the fact that in our society, men are automatically viewed as more dangerous than women.

Finally, at the World SF blog, Joyce Chng interviews K.S. Augustin, who is an occasional commenter on this blog.

It’s a good interview, but what struck me most was the assertion that the terms SF romance and futuristic romance are used as labels to ghettoize female SF writers. Because plenty of male SF writers, including several golden age luminaries, feature relationships and even sex in their novels and are still classified as SF, space opera in particular. But when a woman writes about relationships and sex in outer space (or cyberspace or a post-apocalyptic future), the book is suddenly classified as SF romance. Which won’t necessarily hurt sales – after all, romance outsells SF. But it definitely makes the book invisible to SFF readers and critics. Writers like Linnea Sinclair or Susan Grant as well as Dorchester‘s defunct Shomi line are not on the radar of SF readers at all, even though many of the books would probably appeal to SF readers. It’s a classic case of what Joanna Russ called “False Categorizing”.

Of course, a lot of books that would be horror or just plain fantasy, when written by men, are classified as paranormal romance or urban fantasy, when written by women. And of course, the entire urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres – though numerous, popular and successful – are pretty much ignored by the SFF community. The books are not reviewed, not discussed and they are not nominated for any awards, whether Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, World Fantasy, Locus or any other.

*Bittercons are online versions of conventional panel discussions for those who cannot attend cons for whatever reason.

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3 Responses to Gender roles in SFF romance hybrids

  1. Megaton says:

    Gender roles in SFF romance hybrids | Cora Buhlert: But when a woman writes about relationships and sex in outer…

  2. Kaz Augustin says:

    Cora, you’ve mentioned one of my utterly hot buttons with the “sf romance” vs. “space opera” thing. I might contact you for your feedback for a term I’ve been musing over. Give me a few days. But this topic DEFINITELY has to be discussed more widely because, quite frankly, the way things currently stand sucks!

    PS Thanks for the interview mention! 🙂

    • Cora says:

      Oh, definitely get back to me. I’m always up for discussions and I also have an academic interest in this whole issue, because it ties in with my thesis subject, which is hybrid forms of SFF and romance. A new term would be great, too, because most of the terms used to designate these hybrid forms are not really useful. Never mind that is is frustrating to see that the SFF community is ignoring large swathes of the genre.

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